Historic Camp Thomas
In 1895, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park became the country's first National Military Park. The following year, Congress passed legislation allowing the Military Park to be used as a training ground for the Army. As war with Spain looked inevitable, in early 1898 the Chickamauga Battlefield Park came under consideration is the place of troop training. The reason was the Chickamauga Park offered good railroad link's to most parts of the country. Besides the adequate railroads, the climate was warm and would help acclimate many of the Northern troops to the Cuban weather conditions.
On April 14, 1898, the first regular army unit, the all Black 25th Infantry Regiment arrived at Chickamauga Park. On April 21, Maj. Gen. John R. Brooke arrived in camp and took command of the camp. He made his headquarters at Lytle Hill on April 25, the same day, war was declared on Spain. More regular Army units arrived, and their total strength grew to 7,300 men. On April 23, the site was named Camp George H. Thomas in honor of the Civil War General who had fought here. On May 14, all regular army units had left and volunteer state units started arriving. Their numbers would swell to at least 45,000 by the end of the month.
Camp Thomas involved intensive training. Reveille was 4:40 a.m. It was intense and grueling. There was also a dress parade every evening. The supply of tents available at Camp Thomas was in short supply, and the men crowded 7 to 9 men in a tent measured 7 feet by 9 feet. The tents had no floors, there were no cots or beds, and the men had a single blanket each. There were no regular cooks or mess halls. Cooking was done over open fires and the soldiers had to find and cook their own meals. They then had to wash their own dishes, often without water, which was quite scarce at that time. Due to lack of sanitation, disease was rampant.
On August 8, largely due to the unhealthy conditions, secretary of war Russell A. Alger ordered the camp to begin closing. Sick soldiers in the two camp hospitals were sent home on furlough to recover. Other troops were sent to other camps were discharged and sent home.
By the middle of September most of the soldiers had departed. More than 72,000 troops had been in the camp. The park was in ruins, many trees had been destroyed, some being used for firewood, some cut for poles, while others were destroyed by Cavalry horses and other livestock that ate the bark. More than 3,000 latrines were disinfected and filled, buildings were dismantled, refuse burned. Resurfacing the roads and removing dead timber continued. Work by park laborers went to replace historical markers broken during the occupation. In all, more than $25,000 was spent refurbishing the battlefield after the Spanish-American war.
The military presence continued with the opening of Fort Oglethorpe in December, 1904.
For more information on historic Chickamauga, please visit the Depot Museum, inquire at Town Hall or look up the homepages for the city of Chickamauga and the Chickamauga campaign trail on the Internet: